Hey Chicago-Area Nonprofits: The Chicago Community Trust Has Big Plans For You

The following scenario may sound painfully familiar to nonprofit arts organizations: Grant writers apply for funding, then foundations get back to them and say, "Thanks, but we're looking for organizations with stronger management practices, better financial stewardship, a greater community impact," etc. To which the organization thinks, "Fair enough, but that's precisely why we're applying for the grant. We need the financial support so we can build the successful and sustainable management practices that you seek."

It can be a vicious cycle, and nonprofit executives can be forgiven for feeling a bit frustrated and pessimistic about getting to that next level. Fortunately, there are organizations out there committed to helping nonprofits bridge this gap and build the in-house management and capacity-building experience that will get big funders to open their wallets.

Case in point: The Chicago Community Trust. It  believes that "the strength of our region's cultural vitality is rooted in the diverse landscape of community-based arts and cultural organizations that create affordable and accessible arts opportunities for all residents." Better yet, follows through with its SMART Growth capacity building program that helps small arts and cultural organizations engage their boards and staffs in strengthening management practices.

The program, which is driven by the trust's SMART Growth methodology, specifically helps nonprofits in four main ways:

  • Effectively supporting the nonprofit's mission.
  • Enabling nonprofits to contribute to the community.
  • Helping nonprofits pay a living wage to artists and staff.
  • Creating a financial management model to ensure the organization remains resilient in the face of economic and demographic shifts.

Recipient organizations receive an an initial assessment and training in the SMART Growth methodology, followed by three years of general operating grants which can range from $15,000 to $50,000 per year.

Organizations applying must meet the following criteria:

  • Be an Illinois nonprofit with federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt designation.
  • Be incorporated as an arts and culture organization (not a social service agency, college/university or other entity with an affiliated arts/cultural program).
  • Be located in and primarily serve Cook County.
  • Have an annual operating budget that is less than $1 million in the most recently audited fiscal year.
  • Have at least one paid management staff person.
  • Have a functioning, volunteer Board of Directors.
  • Not a prior SMART Growth grant recipient.

More information and RFP here.

In short, The Chicago Community Trust does more than hand out checks. It gives nonprofits the tools they need to build the sustainable management practices that can help them secure even more money.